According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, all citizens are equal and enjoy the same rights regardless of their beliefs, ethnic background or gender. Legal equality is however not necessarily replicated in a Chinese workplace or day to day life. Discrimination and racism still do exist. Even with all the tremendous change that China has experienced in the recent decades including improved living standards, an ascent to greater power status and phenomenal economic growth, the country has made little progress when it comes to the treatment of the ethnic minorities.
In China, there are 56 different ethnic groups fully recognized, but the nation remains relatively homogenous since over 90% of its citizens belong to the Han Chinese group. Individuals from various ethnic backgrounds or foreigners clearly stand out from the crowd and sometimes, they face discrimination and racism in China.
There are ongoing China ethnic conflicts in Xinjiang and Tibet in the Western part of China which have influenced the fueling of ethnic tensions, and mistreatment of the respective local ethnic minorities: the Uyghur, and Tibetans. Even after the initiative was taken by the government to protect and support them including less strict family planning rules and easier access to higher education, but nothing much has changed. Instead, it backfired and even somewhat fostered some resentment among China’s Han majority.
The Han Chinese consider themselves the most civilized and advanced ethnic group in China. It’s quite unfortunate that the sentiments still stand up to today even with laws enacted to protect the minority and racism officially condemned in China. This attitude is what has contributed to most ethnic issues in China. More assimilation has been encouraged in the recent years especially in Xinjiang and Tibet whose ethnic groups are widely considered a threat.
Racism In China
The Chinese have a myriad of prejudiced views regarding gender, race, and nationality. The Chinese people have no reservations whatsoever about mocking ethnic minorities and are overly confident, living by the belief that anything non-Chinese is primitive. The Chinese have regarded anyone living outside China a barbarian or savage all through history. The Chinese people viewed the Europeans as having larger noses, more hair than monkeys and smelling worse than dead bodies. On the other hand, they believed some whites tied themselves together to avoid being snatched away by eagles.
Racism against the Japanese
Chinese people very much dislike the Japanese, and they will never appreciate Japan, not for anything. The commonly used slurs against the Japanese include “Japanese devils” and also “little Japanese”. The bad blood between China and Japan dates back to the World War II. They have such bloody history that has never been forgotten nor forgiven. It was catapulted by the atrocities committed against the Chinese citizens and also the Japan’s occupation of China. Following a research conducted by BBC World Service, 9 out of 10 Chinese view their island neighbors negatively.
Racism against Africans (Blacks)
Most often than not, the black people are regarded suspiciously and are all thought to be coming from Africa regardless of their origin. China is a society where light skin is deemed desirable and believed to be a sign of fortune whereas the darker skin represents unfavorable traits. There have been several instances where black native English speakers are turned down in the place of a white non-native English teacher.
A person of African descent traveling to China shouldn’t be surprised when people stare at them as if they were a spectacle. The curious Chinese crowds will take pictures, touch hair, rub skin and ask questions that clearly reflect their lack of interaction with black people. Racism against the Blacks is arguably the strongest form of racism in China. Ethnocentrism, colorism, ignorance and class divisions exist within the Chinese society. China looks down upon the other Chinese with darker skin, and their definition of beauty is pale unlike in the Western culture that prefers tanned skin.
The black people in China are viewed through stereotypes as most Chinese assume that black people are uneducated, wild, barbaric, poor, play basketball and even eat each other. Black Ghost is one of the most common Chinese racist terms used against the Black people. Reports of Chinese racism against the Black dates back to when Africans were first welcomed to study in China at the Chinese universities during the 1960s. In 1988, a 300-strong mob broke into African students’ dormitory at Nanjing University and destroyed their possessions while chanting “down the black devils,” believing the men took their Chinese girlfriends.
In 2009, after a police raid in Guangzhou, an African vendor running a stall died during the passport and visa check in the busy market. The event angered much Africans, who surrounded and protested a police station in the Southern city of Guangzhou.
Lately, the Chinese government has massively invested in some African countries which has enhanced the prejudice that all Africans are poor, and they need help. The black population in China is perpetually increasing with Guangzhou having around 20,000 African residents who are involved in trade and business.
If you thought that discrimination against people was only limited to racism, then you thought wrong since age, looks, height and other physical features also significantly contribute to who lands a job in China and the amount of pay they receive. Even with the anti-discrimination laws in the job market, you will still find job ads stressing on the physical features with recommended height and weight and also requesting you to send a favorable photo.
China doesn’t have any official religion. Religious discrimination is uncommon in the workplace. However, to avoid promoting any religion in an officially atheist nation, some of the employers forbid their employees to observe various religious practices, especially at work. For instance, in 2014 officials and students in Xinjiang were banned from fasting and observing Ramadan.
You might be wondering why are Chinese people so racist, but non-exposure and ignorance majorly contribute to it. But with the “Obama Effect” and a growing number of African athletes such as footballer Didier Drogba and basketball’s Stephon Marbury have helped change perception. There has been a significant shift in how the Chinese perceive Africans, definitely not racist-free yet but they can now talk about constructive things like the president, and the latest African athlete signed to a Chinese team.
Africans and Indians have experienced the same crude cocktail of ignorance and bias towards whiteness in China for some time now. All this boils down to money and status since that is what motivates the Chinese people and do not associate the two with darker skin tones. The racism is mostly high in Mainland China where individuals have been brainwashed by the government and have little or no contact with the international communities. Hong Kongers, Singaporeans, and Taiwanese are more open-minded and welcoming to different races, unlike the mainland Chinese, who obsess over Caucasian looks. It’s important to note that not all Chinese people are racist, it’s a societal problem but with a good number of the Chinese people traveling and experiencing different cultures, they now appreciate different skin tones and know that skin color has nothing on the character.